Why continuity should help ever-evolving Raiders, Derek Carr

ALAMEDA, Calif. — Change, as a wise person once said, is the only constant in life.

Then there’s this: He who does not bend with the wind shall be broken by the wind.

So what do these musings have to do with an NFL team? Glad you asked. Because when it comes to the newly minted Las Vegas Raiders, change is all around them as they continue the arduous move to Southern Nevada after returning to Oakland from Los Angeles in 1995.

And yet, continuity is their ally. And, you might say, it’s the Raiders’ greatest strength when it comes to their retuned roster heading into a summer and, yes, season full of unknowns.

“Yeah, it’s huge. I mean, continuity is a word that we’d like to live by here, and it’s something we have struggled to do, obviously,” said Raiders coach Jon Gruden, ironically enough, the day after his team’s Oakland tenure ended on Dec. 30, 2019.

Indeed, only eight players on Las Vegas’ current 90-man roster played for the Raiders before Gruden returned to the organization in January 2018 — quarterback Derek Carr, running back Jalen Richard, center Rodney Hudson, right guard Gabe Jackson, offensive tackle David Sharpe (who was actually drafted by the Raiders pre-Gruden but was cut by Gruden before being brought back), linebackers Nicholas Morrow and Marquel Lee and safety Erik Harris.

“The young tight ends, the young backs, the offensive line, we’re starting to collect some pieces in the secondary and on the defensive edge of our defense,” Gruden continued. “Hopefully, those guys can play together for four or five years, and that’s when I’ve seen teams really take off and become competitive. Really competitive when they have some continuity.”

When Gruden came out of the Monday Night Football booth after nine years to return to the sidelines, many saw the Raiders’ roster as merely needing a good power washing. A Silver and Black scrubbing, so to speak, after peaking and falling off under Jack Del Rio.

Gruden, though, came not with a hose but a pickax. And a jackhammer. Not to mention a wrecking ball.

In two-plus years, Gruden, armed with the security that comes with a 10-year contract worth a reported $100 million, has rebuilt the Raiders. And that continuity about which he spoke? That comes courtesy of those young players he referenced earlier.

Darren Waller has the look of a perennial Pro Bowl tight end, and Foster Moreau caught five touchdown passes as a rookie last season. Josh Jacobs rushed for a franchise-rookie-record 1,150 yards and we’ve already discussed the offensive line, while Trayvon Mullen has the looks of a cornerstone cornerback and Maxx Crosby had 10 sacks.

Then came free agency this spring, in which Gruden and second-year general manager Mike Mayock signed the likes of linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski and cornerback Prince Amukamara, while drafting receivers Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards along with cornerbacks Damon Arnette and Amik Robertson.

To look at it another way, 49 players on their 90-man roster spent at least one day on the Raiders’ 53-man roster last season, and they return 21 players who started a game last season (11 on offense, seven on defense and all three special-teamers). Plus, all three coordinators are back, with 12 of 14 non-coordinator assistants returning on Gruden’s staff.

“We talk about foundation players … you’ve got to love to ball,” Mayock said after the draft. “I think on both sides of the line of scrimmage and on both days, we got guys that have a little edge to them, guys that love football, have speed, and above all they love the game and are tough kids.”

Foundation players are what breed continuity. And Carr should benefit the most from said stability.

Because for the first time in his seven-year career, Carr will be playing in the same system for the third straight season. And he is coming off career highs in passing yards (4,054) and completion percentage (70.8).

“A year ago,” Carr said on locker clean-out day, “we had a lot we needed to address. We still have some things we need to address, but it’s definitely, definitely a better place this year than we were 12 months ago.”

Consider: As noted by The Associated Press, the Raiders have had the same starting quarterback and head coach pairing in at least three straight season openers just six times. Those duos — Daryle Lamonica/John Madden (1969-71), Ken Stabler/Madden (1974-78), Jim Plunkett/Tom Flores (1981-85), Jay Schroeder/Art Shell (1990-92), Rich Gannon/Gruden (1999-2001) and Carr/Del Rio (2015-17), with Carr/Gruden (2018-20) on deck.

All of these combinations, save Carr, played in at least an AFC title game.

Gruden, meanwhile, spoke of “all the change” around Carr last season.

“We had different receivers almost every week, different tight ends, different backs, different linemen,” Gruden said. “And I think his patience and his ability to coach guys in practice and on the grass on game day was a real area of improvement. He did some good things, no doubt.”

Things the Raiders expect Carr in particular, the team in general, to improve upon in 2020, thanks in large part to continuity.

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